Sometimes life obliges us to do something we hadn’t planned or particularly wanted to do; then it works out so well we’re really glad we did it – in fact we wish we’d done it ages ago!
Such was the case for me with my brand-new WordPress website, herstorywriting.com. I didn’t want a new website. I was happy enough with the simple, info-rich, advert-free old sites helencox-herstorywriting.co.uk and lay-of-angor.co.uk, even though, (as work-hungry web designers never tired of spamming to tell me), they looked stale and outdated. They’d been wonderfully easy for a complete novice to set up on what would become ‘Classic’ WebEden, and easy to maintain despite a few annoying glitches with the software which I learnt to work round. But they needed the recently-obsolete Flash Player to run; so in autumn 2020, like it or not, I had to review my options and get a new site built before Flash expired at the end of December.
One might think that a quick, simple option would be to import the content to the new WebEden platform. However, for reasons I don’t understand, this facility wasn’t made available to users. I couldn’t even add a New site to the account I’d held there for 10 years, but had to create another separate account (something which generated a flurry of complaint on the company’s Facebook page from other Classic users in my position). Well, OK… I wasn’t happy, but decided to give it a go for the sake of continuity/to save the time and bother of searching for a new provider.
The first issue I ran into was one I subsequently found to be a common one with build-your-own website providers: a bewilderingly huge catalogue of themes to choose from, but all very ‘samey’ and none especially appealing. On Classic WebEden, it had been easy to flick between them and compare. Not so on New. I eventually selected a design I thought I could work with, couldn’t make head or tail of the software, (totally different to/less intuitive than Classic); then when I decided I didn’t like the look of it after all, I couldn’t escape from the damn thing. I searched vainly for a command to go back, collapse, close, replace, exit etc etc, growing crosser and crosser until in the end I hit ctrl-alt-del. Talk about user-unfriendly! I thought it was an extremely poor advert for the company, and atop all the other frustrations and technical problems I’d experienced, made me unwilling to persevere with the impenetrable software.
The next most obvious solution was to build the new site here, where I have my blog and reasonable proficiency with the software. WordPress sensibly maintains a much smaller stable of themes with a bit more individuality and imagination to them, and I easily spotted a couple I liked; but what if there was something even better out there? After an hour or so searching on-line, I concluded there wasn’t; at least, nothing eye-smackingly wonderful enough to compensate for missing the convenience of having my main internet presence all under one roof, so to speak.
So back I came to WordPress, tinkered about on one template, decided it didn’t work, and lo! was able to import what I’d done into a design I liked better. Easy-peasy. Keeping my domains? That was harder. WordPress doesn’t support .co.uk domains, so I couldn’t transfer them as I’d hoped; I’d have retain WebEden as supplier, and map the site instead. But I could no longer log in to do so through Classic, because Flash Player no longer works – and then found I couldn’t log in through New, either! I tried every permutation of likely passwords, searched my diary in vain for the new log-in details, eventually admitted defeat and hit ‘forgotten password’ – and the re-set link failed to come through. (Twelve hours later, I’m still waiting).
That really was the final straw. The desire to keep my domains because all my publications sold or in stock carry the old .co.uk website addresses was outweighed by a sudden, overwhelming desire to ditch WebEden and all the hassle that goes with it. So I promptly launched the basic framework of the new site on WordPress as herstorywriting.com, trusting that everyone who wants to will find me when I’ve updated all the search engines and references. I must admit, I’m chuffed to bits with the fresh new look, revamped text and new images, and looking forward to building it up with all sorts of features, including slide-shows of my Sandal Castle, Battle of Wakefield and Battle of Towton tours. (One of these days I’ll get round to building a new lay-of-angor.com site on here as well). So do take a peek – I hope you’ll enjoy it and keep coming back to see my new blog posts and other developments!
Hubcap and I often joke that we’re the king and queen of Helmickton-sur-Bois, a tiny kingdom we inhabit along with our cat-son, Prince Henry Wowler, and countless other citizens of the furry, feathery, buzzy or creepy-crawly type, (but no servants, alas, which makes us perforce extremely active monarchs). Accordingly, since our bedroom with its cracked ceiling and split wallpaper (courtesy of the 2008 earthquake) and sick-stained carpet (courtesy of Prince Henry) was sadly overdue for re-decoration, I wanted a new, opulent look to reflect our regal status. And I’m so delighted with the result that I’d like to share it with you, primarily to praise various companies we used for the excellence of their work and/or quality of goods supplied, and also to acknowledge the many friends whose generous gifts helped me to create my dream bedroom.
The whole design pivots around a reproduction of Graham Turner’s famous painting of the Battle of Towton, with the main colour scheme azure-and-murrey, (blue and deep red), the Yorkist colours.
Some people might think hanging an image of conflict and death over one’s marital bed is inviting bad karma, but for us the picture has far happier associations. For a start, it was a wedding present from our good friend Martin, reflecting our personal history: Hubcap and I met, and subsequently had our marriage blessed, at Saxton on the southern edge of the Towton battlefield; for many years we both sat on the committee of Towton Battlefield Society, and founded/ran its affiliated Wars of the Roses re-enactment group, the Frei Compagnie; and we’ve both ‘met’ some of the casualties as skeletons from the mass graves excavated in and around Towton Hall by another friend/Society member, battlefield archaeologist Tim Sutherland. So the men in the picture feel like friends (indeed, one archer in the foreground bears an uncanny resemblance to Hubcap in build and stance!); we’ve literally walked in their footsteps, remembered and mourned for them, and commemorated their lives as re-enactors; and that’s why it hangs in this place of high honour, reminding us not only of the dead but of our wonderful medieval wedding weekend at The Crooked Billet in 2007, and all the happy times we’ve enjoyed on Society re-enactments, especially the Palm Sunday events in the grounds of Towton Hall.
To set it off, I painted the wall in Indigo Flame silk emulsion from my favourite Valspar v500 range supplied by B&Q, mixed to order in store – superior paints giving excellent coverage and good value for money. One big advantage is that all the available shades are painted on cardboard swatches you can view under three light sources – simulated daylight, fluorescent and energy-saving – to see exactly how it’ll look/easily match it against samples of your wallpaper, carpet or whatever. Brilliant idea. Another is the interesting way the palest shades behave on a wall, changing with the light, looking practically white in full sun and deepening to gorgeous, subtle colours in the shadows. We already have the faintly pink Lip Gloss and greenish-gold So Close in the bathroom and office, and the one I chose for the other three bedroom walls was Wisp of Cocoa, a delicious weak latte brown, to tone with our wooden furniture and patterns of the carpet. Otherwise, bog standard brilliant white silk vinyl and gloss took care of the ceiling and woodwork, and contrasted nicely with the walls and major new installation, the fitted wardrobes.
Splashing out on this was part of my plan to future-proof the room by maximising storage space and getting rid of the horrible, hard to clean dust-traps around our old free-standing wardrobes. Looking on-line for a local company, I found Hammonds in Leeds and requested their e-brochure, which arrived immediately; and even as I was browsing it, a sales-lady called me on my mobile. We arranged for a survey on the spot, and Phill the surveyor couldn’t have been more helpful or proficient in translating my ideas into a design, giving me loads of useful information and tips without any superfluous sales-talk, then advising me on how to save money and willingly re-doing the whole thing when the style I first chose proved to be outside my budget. (Ironically, I prefer the cheaper version he suggested to my original choice!). Everything then went exactly as arranged: a second, more detailed survey to check measurements/confirm details; the fitting itself, with a lovely fitter who worked his socks off to finish it in a single day; and an aftercare call to check that I was happy (I was, very). Absolutely impeccable service from beginning to end, and the beautiful wardrobes, with their soft-close doors, pull-out trouser rail and oodles of space meet our needs perfectly.
Hammonds is one of the best companies I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, and I can’t recommend them highly enough – we’re certainly planning to use them again when we re-do our hobby-room next year.
Much the same can be said about the carpet. Again, I decided to splurge on a quality, traditional wool like the indestructible Axminsters and Wiltons my parents used to have, a carpet which would easily outlive me; and patterned rather than plain, to disguise the fact that the Helmickton royals are three messy, dirty beings. After a lengthy on-line search I was beginning to despair of finding what I had in mind, until I discovered the New Barrington Axminster range made by Hugh Mackay Carpets. The design ‘Kashmir’ literally made my jaw drop, and I knew straight away I had to have it. It has a vaguely Arts & Crafts feel, with dark red flowers to match my velvet curtains, and shades of tawny brown to go with the furniture (and the cat, who will no doubt shed copiously on it).
I duly contacted The Carpet Man, who’d made a grand job of supplying and fitting our new office carpet last year – and who was honest enough to say that it was too specialised a job for him, and refer me to Wakefield Carpet Specialists. I found WCS to be another faultless firm: the friendly, helpful staff did everything from ordering the carpet, storing it until the room was ready to receive it, then fitting it perfectly; they would even have shaved a millimetre off the bedroom door and re-hung it if I’d wanted to stop it brushing the pile. Just like Hammonds, WCS provides an old-fashioned personal service, with staff who clearly take pride in their work and seemed to genuinely enjoy supplying (quote) ‘a beautiful piece of carpet’ – definitely the go-to guys for specialised carpeting jobs in our area.
To complete the look, I treated us to a few luxury items in some of my favourite styles and themes from history, including the reproduction Tiffany stained-glass light fittings ordered on-line from Iconic Lighting.
Top marks again for quality, service and value for money: this ceiling lampshade and side-lamp arrived promptly, extremely well packed and intact, and look utterly delightful, especially when lit and the dragonflies’ eyes glow!
I’m also happy to commend the Belgian company Yapatkwa Tapestries for the fabulous throw and cushion cover which enabled me, at last, to dress my throne, (a magnificent folding period chair thoughtfully presented to me in my arthritic days by the Frei Compagnie, to spare my aching back on events), in suitably regal fashion.
The design on the heavy Jacquard throw is taken from my favourite Medieval tapestry, ‘La Dame et la L’Icorne‘, a copy of which I bought from the Musee du Moyen Age while on a culture-vulture tour of Paris in 1988, and now have framed on the wall alongside; the cushion cover is a Tree of Life by William Morris; both are sumptuously coloured, superb quality, a joy to behold and worth every penny.
Altogether it’s created a cosy Medieval-style reading corner, overlooked by another wedding present from Frei Compagnie friends Stu and Dawn: a portrait of King Richard III, whose fascinating story led me to Towton in the first place and who, in effect, introduced me to my husband!
The only slight disappointment was my ‘Strawberry Thief’ bed cover from the William Morris Company, supplied by Debenhams. There’s nothing wrong with the quality: it’s a stunning fabric, reversible, extremely well-made, and lightly quilted so that it’ll serve equally well as a heavy bedspread for the depths of winter, or by itself as an ultra-light duvet for summer heatwaves. No, the problem is the size: ‘Double/Kingsize’, which may be a tad small for the latter, but is WAY too stiflingly big for the former.
There’s no other size to exchange it for except Single, which will be too small; nor do I really want my money back, because in other respects I love it. So loath though I am to mutilate the most expensive piece of bedding I’ve ever bought, my only option is to cut it down to a sensible size for our standard double bed, re-hem it, and roll up/stitch the remnant to make a matching bolster cushion. Ah well – at least it’ll give me a project for those long winter nights!
Finally, a word on the other artworks, none of which are new and all of which have special meaning. The beautiful bronze-and-wood icon was a gift from my sister-in-law Anita, and sculpted by her late father, Willi Soukop, the prancing Balinese temple horses formerly hung in my parents’ hallway and were bought by Anita and my late brother John on their Far Eastern travels in the 1970’s; and the Ingres-style pencil portrait of a twenty-something me was drawn by my accomplished American friend Jim Fay in 1987, while I was living and working as an antiquities conservator in Baltimore, Maryland.
It’s lovely to sleep in such a rich-looking, comfortable and well-appointed room, surrounded by precious and beautiful things we’ve amassed over the years or had given by our loved ones; an eclectic mix of favourite periods and themes akin to the ‘pick and mix’ approach I took in creating the fantasy world in The Lay of Angor. I find it particularly satisfying that it allowed us to support a number of deserving businesses, at home and abroad, pumping some welcome cash into the economy in this uniquely difficult year. I can’t say how grateful I am to all the tradesmen and surveyors who continued to work during the second lockdown, enabling us to complete Project New Bedroom on time and according to plan, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed making it happen. And while you may not care for my choices, if you check out the company websites, you’ll see they supply a wide range of quality products in many different colours and styles to suit all tastes. Well worth a look if you’re planning your own right royal make-over!
For the first time in ten years, I’m not stressed out as the date approaches Palm Sunday. Why? Because the Towton Battlefield Society annual event to remember the fallen of Britain’s bloodiest battle on Palm Sunday 1461 has been, if not cancelled, then radically scaled down.
Since my first participation back in 2005, the event steadily grew and developed, helped by a series of freakishly perfect Spring weekends which attracted ever more re-enactors and traders keen to start off the new season, and ever larger audiences keen to find something interesting to do on a fine sunny Sunday. From 2007 I was on the management team; and as secretary and chair of the Society’s in-house re-enactment group, the Frei Compagnie, it naturally fell to me and hubcap to organise the living history camp, guest re-enactors and programme of field entertainment, including combat demonstrations and a battle finale. Planning and preparation involved a massive amount of work – not only for us but for the TBS chairman and committee, other Frei Compagnie members, and many Society members who spent successive weekends gathering and processing wood for the camp fires, cleaning the barn to receive traders and exhibitors, and mowing and marking out the field. Then the event itself spanned four days of preparation, delivery and cleaning up afterwards, with everything from setting cones out on the roads, marshalling the car-park and cleaning out the Portaloos being done by volunteers, many of whom were fitting all this in around full-time jobs.
By the battle’s 550th anniversary, a low-key day of guided walks and a small living history camp had turned into one of the biggest private events of its kind in Yorkshire and, arguably, one of the best. Many re-enactors and visitors would come along year after year to enjoy the very special atmosphere of an event held in the grounds of Towton Hall, where the famous mass graves were found, courtesy of landowner and Society President Mrs. Elizabeth Verity; and in terms of commemorating ‘our boys’, I like to think we did them proud.
Alas, in the process we all ran ourselves ragged and it became too much to cope with. By December it was obvious that TBS wouldn’t have enough volunteers to run a large public event safely and professionally in 2016, and it had to be cancelled. To be honest, my relief was as huge as the task-list we would otherwise have had to embark on straightaway in the New Year. Realisation soon followed that neither hubcap or I could face ever picking up that burden again – it had always been very tough for a self-employed pair at the financial year-end, and start of the busiest season in Mick’s gardening business – so whatever might happen on future Palm Sundays, any living history element won’t be organised by us!
But of course the Battlefield Society will always commemorate Towton, and this year I’m looking forward to taking part in a far more chilled-out way. Our main public event is next Saturday, 19th March: a series of guided walks of the Battlefield Trail between 9.30 am and 2 pm – we’re leading the 11.30 walk – plus a couple of Society stands in the barn on Old London Road, where I’ll also have a Herstory stall selling new and pre-owned books, and the trilogy of Richard III CDs by The Legendary Ten Seconds. Then on Palm Sunday itself we’ll go round the trail again on a special members-only walk, which will include a wreath-laying service at Dacre’s Cross, before repairing to The Crooked Billet for lunch and a spot of archery. Compared to the amount of effort we’ve put in over the past decade, two walks and a little stint on my book-stall seems like a mere bagatelle!
So if you’d like to join us next Saturday, dress warm, wear stout shoes and come prepared to pay £3 into the Society coffers for your guided walk. You can also enjoy various medieval experiences at venues in York, including beautiful Barley Hall in Coffee Yard – see http://barleyhall.co.uk/event/battle-of-towton-commemorative-event/ for further information. Or if you’d like to support TBS but are too far away to attend these events, log onto Just Giving and sponsor our intrepid friends Wes Perriman and James Hodgson of the Red Wyverns (Clifford Household) who are marching from Skipton on March 18th and meeting up with the Beaufort Companye to complete the trek to Towton on the 20th. But wherever you are and whatever you’re doing next weekend, please join us in spirit and spare a thought or prayer for the thousands of poor souls who died in miserable conditions on that snowy Palm Sunday 555 years ago…
On Sunday 14th July, history was made again on the battlefield at Towton in North Yorkshire, when the world-renowned Globe Theatre company performed a Shakespearean marathon – all three parts of Henry VI, at the site where some of the action in Part III actually took place in 1461.
I went with some trepidation, I confess; Shakespeare can be hard going, so the prospect of three plays back-to-back, (starting at 12.30 and finishing at 10 pm, with an hour’s break between them), was slightly daunting. However, thanks to Nick Bagnall’s superb direction and an equally superb cast, it was a joy – beautifully interpreted, easy to follow and altogether riveting. I boggled in amazement at what they achieved with imaginative use of a very simple set; no fancy backdrops or painted scenery, just scaffolding towers and a few bits of cloth – but it became everything from the gates of Orleans to Wars of the Roses killing fields to the Tower of London, and much more besides. (You’ll find some pictures of it, and a link to BBC 1’s Breakfast News item about the plays, on the News page of Herstory Writing & Interpretation).
The way the fighting was rendered was also massively impressive. How will they recreate Towton, (a battle where more than 20,000 men are said to have died), with a cast of 14, I’d wondered beforehand. Well, now I know: with the beating of enormous drums, the clash of swords on scaffolding poles, and a handful of actors facing the audience, performing slow-motion, stylised movements with their weapons. It worked beautifully – as did the well-choreographed one-on-one fight scenes that crop up throughout.
Although all the actors were marvellous, Henry VI, played by Graham Butler, was possibly my favourite. I particularly enjoyed his appearance in Part I; as an infant or young child while much of the action takes place, he naturally does not speak; but he was a dominant, silent presence in his central tower, reacting to the dialogue, shrinking in horror from the violence, studying his book or twiddling his thumbs. It was a clever, subtle, very effective way of evoking this hapless king’s character; and sometimes very funny, as when the juvenile Henry reaches down for an important scroll, only to have it whisked away from his groping fingers. Wonderful. But Mary Doherty also played a corking Margaret of Anjou, especially in Part III when she gleefully slays Richard of York. Simon Harrison’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester was another real treat, portrayed as the classic limping, withered-armed hunchback (archaeology has proved that he wasn’t really like that, but the acting had to fit Shakespeare’s script!). And he made a delicious, gloating villain; also very funny, and (not surprising!) warmly received by a Yorkshire crowd.
The performance ended with a sprightly dance on stage and a standing ovation from the audience – and by heck, those actors had earned it. But I wasn’t sorry to go home, because Part III (featuring the Battle of Towton) had given me the heebie-jeebies. As a member of Towton Battlefield Society, I’ve studied, written about and talked about that battle ad infinitum. I’ve ‘met’ some of the battle dead – at least, their poor mutilated skeletons. And as one of the Society’s Wars of the Roses re-enactors, I’ve been on that field (the site of the Lancastrian camp, close to the location of the mass graves made famous by Channel 4’s documentary, Blood Red Roses), at all hours of the day and night. I’ve even slept there on numerous occasions, waiting, hoping, wanting to feel some frisson of atmosphere – but it never really happened until Sunday. Maybe it was listening to the hours of near-contemporary language that did it… for the first time, I felt the full horror of Towton not just intellectually but physically. Yes, it had really happened, right where we were sitting… and as the evening wore on I kept tensing, expecting a rout of exhausted Lancastrians to come panting over the hill, pursued by screaming Yorkists on horseback, cut down and hacked to pieces; expecting to see blood and body parts around my chair; becoming deeply unsettled.
So I have The Globe Theatre to thank for that – not only the most amazing day of drama I’ve ever enjoyed, but the deepest, most poignant connection with the true history I’ve ever experienced on that field. I commend it to you, if you get chance to go; the company are taking it to three more battlefield sites: Tewkesbury on 4th August, St Albans on 8th August and Barnet on 24th August. (It’s also on at various theatres round the country… but it won’t be quite the same indoors!).
So the Palm Sunday event was cancelled – and considering that it’s the first time Towton Battlefield Society has ever pulled it at such short notice, our ‘exit plan’ worked a treat. Everyone who’d been responsible for booking personnel or services simply reversed the process – for me, that meant contacting all the re-enactors and places I’d sent out publicity to – plus a collective blitz on websites and Facebook.
Nonetheless, those TBS committee and Frei Compagnie members able to travel on Sunday morning set out with some trepidation – but luckily we found no knot of hypothermic re-enactors on the snow-covered field, huddled round a camp-fire stamping frozen feet and saying plaintively, ‘Where is everyone?’; no Society volunteers, no traders or exhibitors; and – thank goodness! – no visitors who’d struggled through the weather to our great non-event.
Paradoxically, the cancellation has done TBS some favours: thousands of hits and a 5% increase in ‘likes’ on our Facebook page, scores of posts and emails expressing sympathy, shared disappointment, gratitude for the (relatively) early announcement, undimmed enthusiasm for attending next year, and mercifully few complaints. Although we did get some funny reactions, the commonest being, ‘I’ve seen/heard the event’s cancelled – is this true?’ To be fair, the internet is rife with pranks and malicious hoaxes, but jeez… look out of the window, or listen to the weather forecast, and make an educated guess – is it likely we’d try and go ahead? Then there was, ‘Can’t you hold it on Monday instead?’ – a splendid suggestion from someone who’s clearly never organized anything bigger than the weekly shop. Oh, sure – the snow’s bound to clear in a day… so we simply un-cancel everything we’ve just cancelled, tell all our site volunteers and participants with jobs (not to mention the visiting public) to book a day off work and take the kids out of school to attend, and hire a fleet of giant hot-air blowers to dry the field out…
Or how about, ‘Can you get all the re-enactors to still come in costume so we can film them in the snow?’ Um – actually, some of them are snowed in. And I doubt the rest will be keen to drive for hours through hazardous conditions to freeze their butts off while you faff about with camera angles, then risk life, limb and expensive kit skidding about trying to recreate Towton in slippery medieval shoes – all unpaid, too, just like Margaret of Anjou’s troops. Of course, we could tell them to leave their cars at home, shoulder their gear and hoof it like the original armies – no danger of road traffic accidents en route then, or ruining the site with wheel-ruts. (Which thought prompted me to wonder: what percentage of the troops never even made it into battle at Towton because they’d succumbed to illness, exposure or incapacitating injury along the way? Sadly, I’ve never found a contemporary source to answer this; but combined with the difficulties of feeding and moving large numbers of men and horses on bad roads in the lean season, it’s probably why medieval armies didn’t normally fight at this time of year). In the 15th century, the whole campaign from Wakefield in December 1460 through Mortimer’s Cross and 2nd St Albans to Towton was forced by political crisis; but while the men of the time had no choice in the matter, we 21st century hobbyist soldiers do – and I’m sorry, film-makers, but it ain’t gonna happen.
Honestly – some folk don’t have the sense they were born with – or the capacity to think outside their own little bubble and understand the implications of what they’re asking of a group of volunteers. Meanwhile, the twenty of us who did get to Towton on this authentically snowy Palm Sunday had a very special time – as you’ll see if you check out the News page of my website.
Towton Battlefield Society’s flagship event, the annual Palm Sunday commemoration of the Battle of Towton (March 29th, 1461) has just been cancelled.
Since the Society’s founding in 1994, this has only ever occurred as an advance decision forced by outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. Not so in 2013… we’ve been planning it for months, expecting a bumper turnout of guest re-enactors, traders and exhibitors. But now all that hard work, preparation and anticipation has come to naught, five days before the event – and for what? The weather, with more heavy rain and snow forecast atop a week of wet, freezing misery for Yorkshire.
‘How ironic,’ remarked a friend with tongue tucked firmly in cheek, ‘that a battle fought in terrible snowy conditions in the 15th century can’t be recreated in the 21st because, though infinitely more advanced, our technology cannot cope. Oh, and someone might get hurt.’
Yes – these were indeed the conditions that tens of thousands of men and horses travelled, camped and fought in, back in 1461. The chronicler Jean de Waurin wrote of the Yorkist army (who had just marched up from London through another bitterly miserable Spring) that, ‘It was so cold, with snow and ice, that it was pitiful to see men and horses suffer, especially as they were badly fed.’ A nightmarish thought: all those weary feet trudging through the slush and muddy ruts of unmetalled roads, the miles of baggage train slogging behind, and the unfortunate souls equine and human at the very back, struggling through the mire left by those who’d gone before. And at the end, frozen nights of camping followed by a battle fought in driving snow, with Henry VI’s Lancastrians eventually driven off the edge of Towton plateau to skid helplessly down the steep defile into the flooded River Cock, in what became the bloodiest rout of the Wars of the Roses.
Ugh. Still, it wasn’t just the forecast weather that forced our cancellation. On the contrary, the prospect brought out a ‘Blitz Spirit’ among re-enactors and traders, with plenty keen to share the medieval experience as an homage, a challenge, or simply for fun (well, we are a strange breed). And I dare say a hard core of ‘Towton pilgrims’ among the visiting public would have braved the elements too, for similar reasons.
But as another friend observed wryly, ‘No-one sued back then for twisted or broken bones, stranded vehicles or destroyed fields. Yes, gone are the days you could freeze yourself close to death, knee deep in mud…’
Quite. As organizers, we’re taken inescapably into the realm of Health & Safety, risk assessments, legal liability, insurance claims etc etc.. It can all sound unbearably nanny-ish and precious, but existing and predicted conditions do ratchet up the risk levels from the norm expected at any public event to the strong likelihood of things going badly wrong, and serious incidents occurring. That could be disastrous – not only for anyone injured, or whose property was damaged, but for the Society’s reputation and the whole future of the event. Like it or not, we’re collectively responsible for delivering a safe, well-run and enjoyable experience for participants and public alike… which we can’t, when severe weather and travel disruption may prevent key personnel and services from even getting to site. The uncertainty of what we’d have, what we could cope with, the endless proliferation of ‘what if?’ scenarios all added up to an unacceptable degree of risk.
Because one factor we are sure of is that the event site is completely waterlogged, and won’t dry out even if it’s fine on the day. Normally, because the ground drains well, we’ve been able to manage with wet weather immediately before and during the event weekend – but normally, it hasn’t come on top of the wettest year we’ve had since God knows when, a deluge that started straight after our last Palm Sunday and has barely stopped since. My husband and I began to panic about the conditions last Sunday, when we went to do some site preparation and his barely-laden van sank three inches into the field. It took us a very fraught hour to extricate it, leaving a set of deep ruts and a deeper sense of foreboding. There’s no hard-standing car-park at Towton Hall (we’re talking someone’s private garden, after all) – so what would happen when hundreds of cars and vans drove over that beautiful grass and pristine ridge-and-furrow? Cue visions of it churned into a Somme-full of bogged-down vehicles and mud-bespattered, irate people, blocked access causing traffic jams and chaos in the village, and huge messy damage to the grounds that could take years to fully repair… on an archaeologically-sensitive part of a nationally-significant battlefield, an area we hope will soon be incorporated within an extended battlefield boundary.
No – we couldn’t, just couldn’t do it. So I’m not disappointed by the cancellation – quite the reverse. I’m applauding the Society Chairman for taking the brave decision (and whatever flak might go with it). I’m dancing in relieved delight that we won’t be stuck out in foul weather, watching our pride and joy degenerate into a shambles. I’m saluting with hundred-fold increased sympathy and respect those 15th century warriors who did have to march and fight in similar horrendous conditions. And the only thing that does disappoint me is the root cause of it all: this dismal bloody weather.